Three Passes Trek
October 26, 2018
Trekking Day: 3 of 22
Start: Phakding (Elev: 8,565')
End: Namche (Elev: 11,285')
Distance: 6.5 miles
Accommodation: Lhasa Guesthouse
As I left Phakding beneath partly cloudy skies, I could see high peaks towering overhead, and I finally got the sense that I was nearing the high country. I expected any minute that I would walk into a basin surrounded by snow-capped peaks. Of course, it doesn't happen quite like that. Still, I was inching my way toward the Himalaya photographs we've all drooled over.
Namche Bazaar is a bustling metropolis, which I think is basically what "bazaar" means. This place is a full-on city with all kinds of restaurants and shops. People everywhere, very busy compared to most villages I've seen so far. Namche is the unofficial capitol of the Khumbu. Gear prices have skyrocketed compared to Thamel. A merino wool buff costs 2,500 NR here, which is what I paid for a North Face down jacket mid-layer in Thamel. Wondering how things like yak wool blankets, jewelry, and local daggers compare. It's an oxymoron of a place: on the one hand unforgiving in its commercialism, and on the other set in a high valley with traditional local elements and no roadway access.
Scored a double room for 100 rupees again, although I would've preferred the single that I was originally assigned. It has an epic view westward out over Namche and the towering snow-dusted Kongde Ri knife ridge. When I opened the room, it had someone else's gear in it, so I was given a corner room with more space and two beds (double mattresses!) but also two views of adjacent building walls out my windows. Ah well, pros and cons.
Spent my afternoon walking around Namche. The stupa and gomcha as well as a really cool Buddhist shrine to a local protector, Khumbu Yul-Lha. The latter was my favorite, a colorful mural painted on a rock face in a hidden alcove high above the city. It was telling to me that as busy as Namche is, there wasn't another soul at the shrine.
I'm exhausted tonight. It's only 1720, and I'm totally wiped despite a short sub-four hour hike. Seriously, I can hardly keep my eyes open to type this update. Planning to visit the local weekly Haat (market) in the morning before I leave for Tengboche. No zero necessary here. I'm ready to keep cruising.
October 27, 2018
Trekking Day: 4 of 22
Start: Namche (Elev: 11,285')
End: Tengboche (Elev: 12,665')
Distance: 5.5 miles
Accommodation: Tashi Deleck Lodge
The market this morning was super low key. Not what I expected given the bustling town and influx of western backpackers but still glad I checked it out. Now I don't have to wonder about what I might have missed. I also stopped in at the Sagarmatha Nat'l Park Visitor Center on my way out. It's a quaint museum with different informaiton panels about the area, the flora and fauna, and the culture. It also has a monument to Tenzing Norgay. It shows him standing with his ice ax raised, Ama Dablam in the foreground and Everest peaking out in the distant background. Spent about a half hour there, and could've easily spent more. Very cool little stop.
The gorgeous Ama Dablam dominated the landscape today. It felt so close that I could nearly throw a stone to the summit. I also caught my first views of Everest, locally (and hereafter) called Sagarmatha, as I climbed beyond Namche toward Tengboche amidst pleasant warm weather and bluebird skies.
I was accosted at a checkpoint where I was told that I had to buy a voucher for accommodation in Tengboche. I was really reluctant for two reasons: (1) I had to pay for a whole room (which has been normal so far) without the opportunity to double up with another trekker; and (2) paying early eliminated my flexibility to go further. To the former point, I might be able to find someone to split the room with once I arrive in Tengboche except that everyone else will presumably have already paid as well. If I found someone at the checkpoint, I would have to find them again in Tengboche. Finding a compatible hiking partner just got more important because room rates just jumped from 100/night to 500/night, and I heard they get as high as 750/night. To the latter point, after arriving in Tengboche this afternoon, I would like to have had the option to press on to Pangboche, which would have eliminated the erroneous backtracking for the climb up to Ama Dablam Basecamp tomorrow, as that side trail splits off in Pangboche. Maybe the voucher would have been good in Pangboche despite clearly stating Tengboche on its face? Surely trekkers change plans frequently up here. I didn't bother asking, because I reminded myself to chill. Most trekkers get altitude sickness because they're in a big hurry. Since I just love cruising, I'd count myself at risk. I could easily have stayed in Pangboche because it's only a few hundred feet higher, but I'm trying to develop good habits early on. Forcing myself to slow down in order to ensure proper acclimatization, but it's so hard. I wanna see it all right now! But then the other thing that's nice about stopping early is that the weather turns in the afternoon. Clouds roll in, it gets colder, and it seems like it could rain. All good reasons to keep stopping early. I mean, I have plenty of time. And I really don't need more than a couple days in Kathmandu following my trek. I've already basically had my fill.
Spent my half day exploring the small village of Tengboche, which is pretty much just some lodges, restaurants, and a gomcha (monastery). The latter was neat, but I didn't really understand the significance of the chanting and ceremony that I witnessed over the two hours that I spent there just sitting and watching. (One ceremony involving fire (alternating adding wood and oil), another involving sand (building some sort of intricate design then immediately wiping it away), and one involving candles in goblets of different sizes arranged around a table; all involved chanting and instruments.) Interesting and somber to watch even without understanding. The inside of the gomcha was elaborately decorated. There was a huge Buddha presiding over the room and two lesser idols standing below his classic seated posture. The walls and beams were covered with intricate painted patterns and portraits. There were intricate banners adorned with brilliant patterns and colorful tassels hanging from the ceiling. And of course, there was incense. I believe today was part of the Mani Rimdu Festival, but I'm not sure, and I don't even know what that means anyways. That's the first time on this walk that I thought it would be nice to have a guide, but that thought evaporated as soon as I left the gomcha.
I'm glad to have experienced the gomcha, and there were elements that surprised me. I guess I always imagined that Buddhist monks would be rooted in minimalism and self-reliance. Most of the monks I saw there wore tennis shoes and some had jackets over their robes. While I was there, one of them came around offering us a butter cracker, which felt natural, but then he came around again with a piece of candy and pringles. I was like "Wait, what's happening right now?" It just felt at odds with the image I'd conjured in my head before entering. I found the experience to be a dichotomy between two seemingly separate worlds.
There were many more people at the lodge tonight than on any other night so far. In fact, there hardly seemed to be anyone else the first four nights. The dining room is totally packed tonight, foreigners everywhere. And like my early days on Te Araroa, I'm feeling the bitter sting of loneliness. What I wouldn't give for a 10k or a Luda caliber hiking partner right now. They're two of my favorites in the world, and I'm so grateful for all that I've shared with each of them. Hoping to share many, many more experiences.
I'm exhausted yet again despite a chill day by my usual trekking standards. I haven't been sleeping very well the last few nights, but I have a comfortable bed and room all to myself tonight. Should sleep like a baby!
October 28, 2018
Trekking Day: 5 of 22
Start/End: Tengboche (Elev: 12,665')
Day Hike: Ama Dablam BC (Elev: 15,090')
Distance: 10 miles
Accommodation: Tashi Deleck Lodge
I woke up excited to tackle the day! I got to climb to over 15,000 feet for the first time in my life! And the better news: I felt fantastic up there, both proud of the accomplishment and physically unfazed by the additional elevation.
I set out beneath a clear sky and amidst a light, chilly breeze. Immediately descended to Deboche before climbing steadily to Pangboche where the trail to Ama Dablam Basecamp splits off. First there was a quick descent to a bridge over some glacial runoff, then a relentless climb for about 3 miles to reach Ama Dablam BC. I arrived by 1100 and found a small village in and of itself. I'd passed a number of porters on the climb, then three yak trains going up as I descended. Seems there are plenty of fall expeditions. Didn't see very many other folks who appeared to be out for an acclimating day hike, but that's not too surprising, since 15,000 feet isn't all that high in the grand scheme of things.
I decided to try yak cheese for lunch today. Turns out it's cheaper (100 grams filled me up and only cost 150 rupees). Thinking that'll be the norm going forward. That way I won't have to stop and wait for lunch to be prepared if I don't want to, and I'll save some money also. Of course that's assuming it's readily available and reasonably priced as I get higher. Guess we'll see about that.
Passed through Pangboche twice today, and I'll pass through it again tomorrow. Thinking I would've preferred to stay there rather than Tengboche. Ah, well. Pros and cons. The trail drops from Pangboche into a valley, then climbs to Tengboche, which sits at a similar elevation. Times like these I have to remind myself that the wilderness is my gym also, so that I can appreciate the extra leg workout. I was psyched to finally finish the climb back to my lodge, arriving both exhausted and satisfied with my excursion.
When I got back to my lodge, I laid down for a few minutes before forcing myself to get up. More to see. I climbed high above Tengboche to a stupa that I could see from my lodge. I took only my camera, my phone, and a water bottle. I was wearing my base layer top and running shorts. Turned out to be a bit more ambitious than I'd anticipated. The climb took longer than I thought, and the wind picked up as the clouds thickened overhead. I was uncomfortable but not in any danger. Just would've been happier with a puffy and long pants. Worth the effort, though. Got some beautiful views of Tengboche far below before the clouds choked out the view entirely.
It's 1930. Bedtime. Not too much to keep me busy besides the hiking, so I'm glad it's getting dark early. Giving myself long nights to try and sleep, so even when I don't sleep well, I'm still getting enough to function properly. Tonight, like last night, I'm poised for 11 hours. No reason to stay up late.
October 29, 2018
Trekking Day: 6 of 22
Start: Tengboche (Elev: 12,665')
End: Dingboche (Elev: 14,470')
Distance: 6.5 miles
Accommodation: Yak Lodge
I left the lodge this morning to find frost on the ground. Must've been a cold night, but I didn't notice with my two comforters. One of the advantages of paying for a room to myself.
I set out wearing only a fleece top and my running shorts, and I dropped the former within half an hour. I got a lot of strange looks from other trekkers, all of whom were bundled up pretty good in the crisp air. One group even pulled me aside to tease me about it. They were pretty cool. Kind of reminded me of my adopted family back in South Carolina. They were older and just a lot of fun to talk to. They were also headed for Dingboche today, and I'd hoped to see them again, though I knew it was a bit of a long shot given the size of this village. It's considerably bigger than either Tengboche or Pangboche, but nowhere near as imposing as Namche.
I got here so early that there wasn't a room ready at the lodge I wanted to stay at, so I got a milk tea and read my book in the restaurant. I wanted to climb high above the village for a cool vantage point before the clouds choked out the views, but I had to wait for a room since I didn't wanna haul my whole pack up high. Ended up hiking up the valley toward Chhukhung to get afternoon views of Island Peak, since it'll be backlit on the hike tmw morning. Next I climbed above Dengboche to some prayer flags, and that yielded a great view over the village despite the growing clouds. It's been cloudy since I left this morning. Sagarmatha was totally engulfed before 0800. I was back to my lodge by 1500, and even after the short day, I was totally wiped, which seems to be the only sign that I'm gaining altitude. I started really strong and was dragging pretty hard by the time I neared Dingboche. Then I threw in some day hikes for funsies. I could've gone on, but I'm rather enjoying this finish my day by brunch thing. This is leisure backpacking at its finest.
Turns out the only WiFi up here in the Khumbu is the Everest Link account, which I didn't purchase beforehand and now I can't. I hate that I won't be able to contact Mallory for a while, and I always knew that this was a possibility. I've also noticed that since Namche, the food prices have gone up while the portions have gone down. I saw on a menu tonight that Dal Bhaat, which is normally served with extra complimentary helpings of rice and vegetables, is charged by the serving here. Seems at odds with the general culture and perhaps a way of price-gouging the EBC Trek. I hold no judgment, though. In such a remote region, you gotta get while the gettin's good.
From here, clouds seem to have fully engulfed Chhukhung. As I lay down to sleep, I'm thankful for the relative warmth provided by the clouds and also curious what tomorrow will bring. If I'm feeling up to it, I'd like to climb to Island Peak BC after finding a room and dropping my pack. We'll see how I feel. At 16,665 feet, that will be by far the highest I've ever been. It's gonna be a trip of personal bests, I think.
October 30, 2018
Trekking Day: 7 of 22
Start: Dingboche (Elev: 14,470')
End: Chhukhung (Elev: 15,520')
Day Hike: Island Peak BC (Elev: 16,665')
Distance: 3 miles + 8.5 miles
Accommodation: Panorama Lodge
Clear morning! Really hoping this pattern keeps up for the whole trip. Even with afternoon clouds, I'm able to get to my destination generally ahead of them and see plenty of views during the morning. I think I'll be able to climb the passes ahead of the clouds too! And even if a few roll in, they often make for more dramatic lighting conditions.
I arrived so early today that I decided to go on up to Island Peak Basecamp this afternoon rather than in the morning. I'll do the higher Chhukhung Ri tomorrow, and if I'm feeling well, then I'll continue on over Kongma La the following day. If I'm not doing so hot, I can zero here in Chhukhung. I've got plenty of time for the loop as well as many side trips, any of which could be cut if I need some extra time to acclimate. I really don't see that happening. Things are going really well so far.
It took me two hours to cover the four miles to Island Peak, then another two for the return. Spent an hour up there hiking around to cool overlooks of a glacier lake at the foot of some high peaks. Island Peak stands at a little over 20,000 feet. I'd like to summit a 20,000' peak some day. Preferably not something too crazy, just wanna touch that altitude under my own will and power without any oxygen or other kind of assistance. Just another milestone to push my limits. Always searching; always hungry.
I'm beat. Again. Exactly what I expected after reaching a new PR. More of the same tomorrow after Chhukhung Ri, no doubt. I always feel totally exhausted after my first 14er climb of the season, so it totally makes sense that I'll feel this way with each new high mark on this trip. I took a short nap before an early dinner followed by an early(ish) bed. Gonna start hiking Chhukhung Ri way early tomorrow in the hopes of catching some sweet light on the adjacent 8,000 meter peaks. The clouds were thick when I got up for dinner. I could hardly see the town around me, nevermind the peaks. Then, just a few hours later, I stepped outside to thread my treated water, and the skies were clear. There were millions of shining stars all around, and the Milky Way shot from all the way down the valley overhead and on past Lhotse. I can only imagine a new moon out here. Will I get so lucky on this trip?
I'm staying in a smaller lodge tonight. There are fewer than a dozen of us here, and far fewer trekkers in the village than in Dingboche last night. The EBC Trek splits off and takes a different route to Lobuche, which explains the quieter ambiance. This seems to be my first look at what the Three Passes will be like beyond the EBC madness. Really excited for the more quaint experience, even though it's not as relaxed and authentic as the approach walk was. Should be easier to meet other trekkers too. It'll be nice to have a bit of a community. It's definitely been lonely here. As much as I love it, I spend lots of my time wishing that Mallory was here to share this experience with me. I burst with excitement every time I think about spending my life with her. She's my PCT. Even when things are hard, there is nowhere else I'd rather be.
October 31, 2018
Trekking Day: 8 of 22
Start/End: Chhukhung (Elev: 15,520')
Day Hike: Chhukhung Ri (18,210')
Distance: 3.5 miles
Accommodation: Panorama Lodge
I set out today pre-dawn beneath clear skies. I was feeling strong and ready to tackle the biggest challenge of my trip so far. Before I reached the upper basin, one of the local dogs came bounding up behind me, full of energy. She raced passed me and continued to lead and follow throughout the climb. She was the only one with whom I shared the summit. And what a beautiful pup she was, some kind of chow mix, I think. One of the toughest parts of this vagabond life is not having the unconditional love of a few fur babies. Thanks for filling in, dear Maya.
Once I gained the summit ridge, the climbing quickly increased to class 2/3 for the last several hundred feet to the peak. I topped out at 0820, both of us absolutely exhausted. But beyond that, no symptoms of altitude illness whatsoever, which was a wonderful surprise! Just really slow progress due presumably to the thinner air up high. (Well ok, actually it's not thinner air, it's less pressure, but whatever.) I was taking a handful of slow, small steps at a time, nearly bent over gasping for air between those short bouts of progress. And that, I think, was crushing it?
The views from the top were unbelievable. The 8,000 meter peaks seemed so close I could jump and easily land on one of their impressive summits. I was awe-struck. It was certainly one of the best views I've ever seen. And what an incredible sense of accomplishment. Again though, sans that special someone with whom to share it. God, I wish she was here. But missing her doesn't negate the sense of awe and happiness that washed over me in those moments.
I got one of the best surprises on the way down. Before I even got off the summit ridge, I randomly stumbled into Twinkle and Grace. I met Twinkle on my 2014 PCT thru-hike and hadn't yet met his wife, Grace. I didn't recognize Twinkle, even after we'd been chatting for a minute, and he didn't recognize me. I don't even know who figured it out first, maybe Grace. But regardless, they were on their way up and we agreed to meet at my lodge for lunch when they got back down. I spent a few hours this afternoon going over the map with Twinkle, since he and Grace had already completed the Three Passes. Got some great insight that I hadn't considered or outright didn't know. Really appreciate the pro tips, y'all! Hope you two enjoy those Thailand beaches next week!
I was feeling awesome today and enjoyed taking it easy the latter half in preparation for another big climb tomorrow. Gotta get up and over Kongma La. At 18,160 feet, it's the highest pass on the trek and basically as high as I climbed today. Hoping these good weather mornings keep up!
I scored a roommate tonight. Tim is from France and this is his third time on the Three Passes. Part of me doesn't really understand that. Returning to a specific trek once, maybe. And certainly if I wanted to share it with someone. But just coming back again and again when there are so many other places to see and so few resources to get there? Just not for me. Really nice kid, though. Spent most of the night on his phone, so we didn't talk too much. And since I'm leaving by 0600, I doubt we will.
I ordered some hot lemon drink after dinner, anything to keep warm in the drafty lodges. Then I went out to see about some night captures of the brilliant Milky Way spanning over Ama Dablam's imposing silhouette. Twinkle said it's only gonna be this visible for the next few nights. Stoked that the skies cooperated tonight, and anxious to see how my photos turned out. I've never practiced night photography, and I literally know nothing about it. On the camera, the images look noisy and out of focus. We'll see what I can do with 'em.
Bed by 2035, one of my later nights.
November 1, 2018
Trekking Day: 9 of 22
Start: Chhukhung (Elev: 15,520')
Cross the Kongma La (Elev: 18,160')
End: Lobuche (Elev: 16,110')
Distance: 6 miles
Accommodation: Sherpa Lodge
Pyramid was highly recommended over Lobuche and Gorak Shep was shunned altogether when I spoke with Twinkle and Grace. I was tempted to stay at the Pyramid but ultimately decided to stay at Lobuche because it sets me up a little better to make good time to Dzonghla in a few days, where I'm told accommodations often fill up by late morning. And that also gives me the option to continue directly over Cho La if I'm feeling strong. Besides, I couldn't justify the additional cost (4,000 NR vs 500 NR) for commodities that I'm not craving.
I cruised out of Chhukhung early in order to tackle a long, difficult climb up Kongma La. About an hour after I left, my beloved Maya joined me for a short bit and then bounded on ahead. I topped out on Kongma La at 1015 after a brutal walk. The views were some of the best I've ever seen, so that made the struggle a relatively pleasant one. The day took me as long as the guidebook said it would, which is a rare occasion. Hell of a climb followed by a steep descent and route finding across a broad moraine before finally reaching Lobuche, exhausted once more.
I passed a few trekkers and sherpas as I neared the pass, but otherwise I didn't see anyone else going my way. And no one coming the other way until I was over the pass. It didn't matter, though. Lobuche is a village that both the Three Passes and the EBC Trek share. There were loads of trekkers already here by the time I arrived around 1300. Chhukhung was a nice reprieve, but that's over now. Busy, busy. And unsurprisingly the lodge prices took a significant jump here. Food also got more expensive, and the portions got noticeably smaller. No problem, though. I've been frugal and can easily afford what will hopefully be just a temporary rate hike. And even if it's not, it's still dirt cheap.
I was excited to look out the window of my lodge late this afternoon and see Maya bounding and playing in the open fields below. She came all the way over the pass, and I couldn't help but go out and say hello. She was so excited to see me. As soon as I called to her, she came running over full speed and leapt into the air paws out in front as if going in for a hug. We played for a short spell before she left me in favor of her new dog friends. So happy to see her yet again. A kindred spirit and wanderer. I wonder whether she'll continue to join me. Part of me hopes that she does, and the other part of me knows that it's not fair for her to follow me and for me to not take her home at the end of this trip. All I want is to take her home, and I just dunno if I would. Maybe she won't make me choose.
There were snow flurries early this evening in Lobuche. They got me thinking again about what this trek will be like when Rob and Elizabeth get up here in a month. I wonder how different their experience will be from my own. Can't wait to see them in Kathmandu later this month and ultimately to see photos and hear stories from their trip!
The clouds grew and grew, completely engulfing the small village by 1700. There were no views to be seen, and I again found myself hoping for clear skies in the morning. Also hopeful that tomorrow evening might be reasonably clear, which would support a sweet sunset-ish climb up Kala Patthar, although I have to be back to my lodge by 1830 in time for dinner, so I'd really need to be leaving KP by 1645 at the latest. Should still be some nice evening light if it's not too cloudy (in which case I won't bother with the evening climb anyways).
It's quite chilly up here. I wonder whether Lobuche is the highest I'll sleep on this trek. I was warned multiple times about how difficult it is to sleep up high, how I would wake up frequently short of breath, how I might sleep a few dozen minutes the entire night. Haven't had that experience yet, and I'm honestly doubtful that I will. I've been smart about acclimating and have no reason to expect that I'll suddenly start having trouble. That said, we can't know our altitude threshold until we hit it. Apparently 18,200 feet is below mine. Feeling thankful for that.
November 2, 2018
Trekking Day: 10 of 22
Start/End: Lobuche (Elev: 16,110')
Day Hike: Kala Patthar (Elev: 18,520')
Day Hike: Everest BC (Elev: 17,600')
Distance: 12 miles
Accommodation: Sherpa Lodge
I rocked the epic day hike today. I walked from Lobuche to Gorak Shep in just over an hour and a half, then onto the Kala Patthar summit an hour and fifteen minutes later. I spent a half hour at the summit block, then cruised back down in forty-five. Just an hour to Everest Basecamp, an hour hanging out there, and an hour and a half back to Lobuche. Arrived by 1325, naturally exhausted. It wasn't about being fast; I just felt incredible. I was high on the experience of being absolutely immersed in the freakin' Himalaya Mountains. I was in awe, taking in everything I could. I wanted to see it all, to feel it all - life itself coursing through my veins. This is love. My legs are tired and aching, and it's difficult to catch my breath, but I feel full. I want the fight. I'm hungry for it.
Today was unbelievable. I left immediately after breakfast and headed up the Khumbu Valley toward Gorak Shep, Kala Patthar, and Everest Basecamp. I was chilly until I started the climb up Kala Patthar from Gorak Shep around 0800. I'd moved pretty quickly up the valley with my little day pack. I could see loads of people on the trail ahead, like tiny ants filing up and down the mountainside. Nevermind, though, I knew it would be crowded. Off I went up toward one of the (relatively easily accessible) fabled views in the Everest Region of Nepal. And it's popular for good reason. What an epic view! Snapped some shots and headed back to Gorak Shep to make the trip further up the valley to EBC.
I hated that I had to descend back to Gorak, then hike up the valley from there. Seems there should have been a more direct route from KP to EBC. And maybe there was, but I didn't know or see it, so down I went. I could've done without the re-visit. Tried to get water at one of the lodges in Gorak Shep but was denied. I went to another lodge and was denied again. I found the people in Gorak Shep to be curt and unwelcoming. I think Twinkle and Grace were spot-on in discouraging me from staying there. Glad I heeded their warning.
The hike up the valley from Gorak Shep traced the edge of the moraine and yielded incredible views of Lhotse, Nhutse, and even of the less prominent Everest. I never saw an actual basecamp, but I think that makes sense because I don't believe they climb Everest in the fall. The EBC Trek ends at the edge of the Khumbu ice field. I arrived and found myself surrounded by an impressive cirque. Un-real. No wonder everyone wants to do this walk. It's one of the coolest places I've ever seen. Some places really do live up to the hype.
I saw that a faint trail led from the terminus cairn down to the ice, so naturally I followed it. The trail traced along the edge of the moraine as it took me down to a small creek of glacial runoff among huge blocks of ice. It was so epic! I couldn't believe no one else was down there. I wonder if they were worried about the stability of the "glacier". But the glacier and dangerous ice fall don't start until higher on the route. I found the moraine to be quite stable. Still, I didn't venture too far from the beaten path. Glacial travel really isn't my forte, so I was keenly aware that I might just know enough to do something unbelievably stupid. Better safe than sorry, as they say. And besides, I promised someone special that I'd limit my risk-taking. Since I couldn't get water in Gorak, I filled my Nalgene from the glacier runoff before returning to EBC proper. I couldn't bring myself to drink it without treating it, tempted as I was. Some of the most clear, beautiful water I've ever seen, and I've been lucky to see many pristine landscapes.
The clouds swirled innocently about the peaks and a persistent breeze made for a chilly afternoon. I raced back down toward Lobuche dreaming of a cup of hot lemon tea to warm my core and soothe my sore throat, which has been bothering me to varying degrees pretty much since I arrived in Kathmandu. I thought it was the chemical treatment I've been using to purify my water, but I'm beginning to wonder if I've gotten sick. It wouldn't surprise me given the number of people from all over the world visiting these tiny villages with limited resources for keeping lodge linens and surfaces clean. Everyone is coughing and has a runny nose. I'm no exception.
My legs are absolutely shredded. I can cruise almost effortlessly on flat and downhill grades, but as soon as there is the slightest uphill, it's like I hit a wall. Still I tend to pass other trekkers, so I'm betting this is normal. At least I'm not struggling as much to breath the way I hear others laboring along.
I think I'm going to push over the Cho La all the way to Gokyo tomorrow. At 11 miles and with a high point of over 17,500 feet, it's an ambitious endeavor. I'm just going to get going by 0500 and grab food at Dzonghla a few hours into the walk. That'll set me up with some calories before the presumably brutal climb up and over Cho La. Even if it takes me 12 hours, I'll get there before sunset. I just hope there is lodging available. Looks like there is a small village just before Gokyo called Dragnag. Maybe they have lodging. If so, that could be my bailout in case I'm running late. Don't want to cross the glacial moraine just before Gokyo by headlamp. That might be a bit sketch.
I've stood over 18,000 feet each of the last three days and over 18,500 feet today. So epic. All that remains is my 20,000 foot goal. Someday.
November 3, 2018
Trekking Day: 11 of 22
Start: Lobuche (Elev: 16,110')
Cross the Cho La (Elev: 17,615')
End: Gokyo (Elev: 15,715')
Distance: 11 miles
Accommodation: Gokyo Lakeside Lodge
My alarm sounded at 0440, and it was time to face what would likely be my toughest day of the whole trip. I began beneath a clear sky speckled with stars and a waning crescent moon. Stunningly beautiful. I hiked along in stillness and silence for the few hours it took me to reach Dzonghla. I stopped for breakfast before starting up Cho La around 0800. I was feeling better after putting down some calories. Ready to slowly but surely conquer the icy pass. Fortunately I met a couple from Singapore at the lodge, and they gave me some beta on the safest route across the glacier, which was pretty much what everyone was doing when I got there anyways. Still doesn't hurt to get all of the info I can beforehand.
Since I have some experience with short ice/glacier crossings, I hadn't bothered to carry traction devices. I knew it was a little risky, but I also knew that there would be guides and other trekkers who I could follow for the best route. And I had trekking poles to help steady myself on the slick ice. There were a handful of tenuous steps that could've easily meant injury, though not likely serious. I'd say about two thirds of my steps we're on crusty ice and relatively stable. The other third were on smooth ice and felt about as likely to lose my footing as not. Definitely the crux of the trek so far.
I reached the crowded Cho La a bit after 1030 and didn't waste much time there before heading down toward Dragnag and onto Gokyo. Still plenty of challenging ground to cover. It was nice to have so many other folks around during the glacial crossing, but I was set after that and ready to beat the crowds down. Beyond Dragnag, I crossed a much larger moraine before finally arriving in Gokyo. It was stunningly beautiful, especially so with the wispy clouds blowing up the valley and the bursts of sunlight on the glacial lakes.
I was totally exhausted upon finally arriving in Gokyo after 9.5 hours of challenging hiking. Feeling so accomplished as I sit on my little bed in my shared room at the Lakeside Lodge. I stopped in at the ritzy Himalayan Resort and was tempted to find a second and pay 500 person, but not knowing whether I could find a second and being unwilling to pay 1,000 per night, I shopped around and found a much more quaint shared room for just 200 per night. I figured it was a sweet deal since I'll be here for the next three days doing a few side trips. Might even splurge and spend the third night at the Himalayan, since I'll have most of the day to rest after a sunrise climb up Gokyo Ri. Or at least that was the plan. I recognized right away that my current lodge is a step below the rustic lodges I've become accustomed to, but as the night has worn on, I've discovered that it's actually worse than that. It's downright gnarly. Food and service are sub-par. My dinner was an hour late; they messed up my order; and there was dirt in my meal. I won't even describe the toilet situation. And to top it all off, the place is packed. I could hardly find a place to sit in the common area. Suffice it to say that this has been by far the worst accommodation I've had. I still love the village; I'm just incredibly disappointed with my accommodation tonight. If it doesn't improve in the morning, I'll be packing up and switching tomorrow after my day hike. This is really absurd.
I'm definitely sick and have been for at least a week. Hoping it'll pass soon, but without an actual zero and loads of hot fluids and meds, I'm doubtful. It's generally far worse in the evenings when I'm surrounded by others for hours in the lodge common area. I imagine the yak dung stoves don't help too much either, haha. I usually feel much better during the day while I'm hiking in the clean mountain air, which makes it difficult to just take a zero. And I want to see all of the things. I'm here to explore and a little sickness isn't ruining my experience, so I think I'd rather endure than waste time healing.
November 4, 2018
Trekking Day: 12 of 22
Start/End: Gokyo (Elev: 15,715')
Day Hike: Sixth Lake (17,060')
Distance: 12.5 miles
Accommodation: Gokyo Guesthouse
I left for Sixth Lake early this morning and walked up the challenging, undulating valley by faint headlamp while I willed the sun to rise. The path was narrow and braided, making it difficult to follow. Making matters worse were the dozens upon dozens of unnecessary, unhelpful, misdirecting cairns along the valley. I was so annoyed as I climbed unnecessarily only to see the true path down below and vice versa. Never have I ever seen so many useless cairns in my life. I was fully enraged that hikers would build misguiding cairns along an actual route that should be marked by them. I imagine there was no malice in their construction, but that did little to ease my way. Or my frustration.
Of course I did finally clear the moraine and begin to climb a ridgeline toward the high Sixth Lake and now-abandoned Cho Oyu Basecamp. I caught a glorious sunrise over the distant Sagarmatha from fifth Lake en route, which was a nice win on a hard morning. Finally arrived around 0845 and meandered around the dotted lakes for a couple hours before heading back down. I was stoked to have the whole place to myself, not a soul in sight. Stopped for a quick skinny dip in Ngozumpa Lake on the way back. It was by far the most frigid water I've ever been in, and I've jumped in some cold high alpine lakes in my day. I couldn't stand it for more than a dozen seconds. The light breeze when I got myself out was torture. I got back to hiking just as quickly as I could to generate some body heat.
All in all, it was an exhausting day out. My legs are so dang tired. Feels like I'm moving at a snail's pace. Excited to do the final high pass tomorrow and start to work my way down toward Lukla. I'm hoping I'll feel more like myself as I get lower in elevation.
I ordered a cheese sandwich last night to take on my hike today, because the owner of the lodge required that I purchase two meals there. Dinner last night had dirt in it, which I understand happens sometimes. But the cheese sandwich today was more like three pieces of stale bread with a sparse sprinkling of shredded cheese between each. I'm not upset about the bread; that's part of the deal in a remote region like this. But the portion of cheese for a sandwich that was as expensive as a main course? I think that's the biggest rip-off I've ever experienced anywhere. I understand that goods and services are more expensive out here in the middle of nowhere, but that was downright unreasonable and unlike any treatment I've experienced so far in the Himalaya. I was pissed. There's no excuse for that. I checked out as soon as I got back to the lodge and found other accommodation for the night. The Gokyo Guesthouse is only 50 more rupees per night per bed and much nicer; both the facilities and the quality of the food are far superior. Ended up paying 500 for the whole room since no other solo trekker arrived, but I was happy to do it. I'm just so grateful to be out of that shit hole. What. A. Slum.
I couldn't believe that I saw more than one guide direct their group to the Lakeside this afternoon. How could they not know that there are far better, and equally reasonably priced, accommodations in Gokyo? Or do they know, and they're just getting free meals or some other incentive to bring their groups there? I once heard that guides/porters/drivers often get free meals and/or accommodation at certain lodges, but I never thought much of it because I figured all of the lodges were fairly comparable. I lost a lot of trust in the guide industry after watching them usher their unsuspecting groups into the Lakeside. So glad I chose to go it alone. At least when I make a mistake like that, I can just correct it and move on. If I was paying someone to guide me, I'd have an awful hard time not feeling angry at ending up in a place like that when there are so many other options far more worthy of money.
By 1400 the clouds hadn't rolled in the way that they usually do, so I decided to do an early evening climb up Gokyo Ri rather than the far more popular sunrise climb. But nearly as quickly as I had that thought, the clouds began to build over the summit and roll up the valley. Within ten minutes, Gokyo was engulfed. Thwarted. Ah well, there is a reason the sunrise hike is so popular, I'm sure. Should be gorgeous.
It finally feels like I may be coming out of my cold. I still feel congested and have sore eyes, but I'm feeling noticeably better tonight. Crossing my fingers!
November 5, 2018
Trekking Day: 13 of 22
Start: Gokyo (Elev: 15,715')
Day Hike: Gokyo Ri (17,575')
Cross the Renjo La (Elev: 17,585')
End: Arya (Elev: 14,285')
Distance: 2.5 + 8.5 miles
Accommodation: Arya Guesthouse
I topped out on Gokyo Ri at 0630 just as the sun crested the distant ridge. Shared the summit with just a handful of others, having passed many climbers on the way up. Glad I didn't get going any earlier. Fingers and toes frozen solid, I raced back down to my Guesthouse for a hot cup of tea and breakfast. Made it in 45 minutes. Packed up and ate quickly, as I was eager to start my actual day. Gokyo Ri was just a warm up. I climbed up and over my third and final pass today. Hoping the days will get a little easier from here on out.
I was out of town by 0815 to begin the challenging climb up Renjo La. It was painfully slow, but I took solace in the knowledge that this was the last high point over which I'd have to haul the full weight of my gear. With that thought, I smiled to myself even amidst the slow, short steps that carried me imperceptibly closer to the pass. It took me almost three hours to top out, and I felt so accomplished standing atop Renjo La. Even with 10 days left in my journey to Jiri, that felt like the toughest thing between here and there.
I think there would have been an acclimation advantage to doing the Three Passes in the opposite direction, but I enjoyed knowing that I'd done the toughest parts first. There is something comforting about knowing that whatever lies ahead, it's not as difficult as what lies behind. And more importantly, the sun was typically behind me, so I didn't have to remind myself to turn around for good light. Plus it would've been especially difficult to climb 3,500 feet up Renjo La right out of the gate, which is what I would've had to do if I'd tackled the route clockwise rather than anti-clockwise.
I arrived tonight in Arya to find no one else here. It's a quiet "village" with just two lodges and a half dozen yaks grazing outside. Pretty neat that I'm just twenty minutes off the beaten path, and I'm having an entirely different experience. Feels like what I imagined the Nepal high country to be: rural, quaint, slow-paced.
Since it was just me, I sat in the kitchen keeping warm by the yak dung stove with Kamiyangji, and we did our best to talk. We were able to exchange names and where we're from as well as some bits about my trip and plans for getting back to Kathmandu. She told me that her son is coming tomorrow, and that his English is very good, so we'll be able to talk more. I watched Kamiyangji and her partner bring in dozens of yaks tonight. She said it was to protect them from the wolves. I knew there were predators here, but I didn't realize they have wolves in Nepal. And I haven't heard any howls. Perhaps she's referring to another predator? Either way, quite cool. I was sitting in the kitchen while they prepared dinner, which I've not experienced here. Even just in the last five hours, this has been a far more intimate cultural experience than I've had anywhere else in Nepal. Granted, I've been on the well-trodden path, so it makes sense.
November 6, 2018
Trekking Day: 14 of 22
Start/End: Arya (Elev: 14,285')
Day Hike: Bhote Koshi (Elev: 16,250')
Distance: 10 miles
Accommodation: Arya Guesthouse
I walked up the Bhote Koshi today from Arya. It was another challenge, gaining nearly 2,000 feet in elevation over about five miles before I really got any great views. Cool that I didn't see anyone else, but otherwise not my favorite side trip. The cultural experience I've had staying in Arya was far more valuable and exciting than the hike today. It was pretty, but not nearly on par with what I've seen already. Perhaps impressive if I'd hiked the Three Passes clockwise. Maybe I'm spoiled? Nevertheless, I found a protected perch out of the wind and stayed on that ridge for about a half hour admiring the pretty landscape around me before resolving to hike back down into the oppressive wind. It was windy and cold all day long despite the shining sun and clear skies above. The season is definitely changing up here.
When I returned to Arya, I spent a period in the afternoon again seated by the stove making conversation - as best I could - with Kamiyangji. I spotted some photos, and she pulled them down telling me about her five children. We also talked about expeditions. I told her that I had seen a small one in the valley and mentioned the term Sherpa. She corrected me gently: "Porter. Me, Sherpa." Ah, yes. I'd forgotten. Porter is the proper term. The Sherpa are one of a half dozen or so people of Nepal. Like a tribe, I think. Porter is the term for someone who carries expedition gear. Another nice opportunity to get some local insight firsthand. I wonder how much more I would've learned had we not struggled with the language barrier.
It's cold up here in the valley. I've been feeling chilled to the bone nearly every moment since I started up from Lunghden. Doing sit ups under my blankets tonight to generate some heat before bed. Excited to be heading down a few thousand more feet tomorrow.
November 7, 2018
Trekking Day: 15 of 22
Start: Arya (Elev: 14,285')
End: Thame (Elev: 12,465')
Distance: 7 miles
Accommodation: Valley View Lodge
No matter how easy the walk, it seems I'm always absolutely exhausted, completely spent at the end of each day. Today's walk was nearly all downhill but for a few short spurts uphill. Upon arriving, I feel like I've been walking up and down and up and down for a full day. How can that be? Not enough protein this trip? I'm way down at 12,500 feet, so I don't think it's the elevation. Although maybe having been up so high for so long, I'll need to get quite a bit lower before I feel stronger. And my legs need a break. I haven't had a zero since I started. Planning to zero in Lukla before the tough haul out to Jiri. Hope that helps. And if not, I can always just return to Phaplu and take a jeep out from there. Plenty of flex days still in my schedule.
I'd planned to climb Sunder Peak this afternoon and then hike up the valley to Parchemuche Lakes tomorrow, but instead I'm gonna NERO and rest here today, then do Sunder Peak tomorrow. I'm not attached to Parchemuche Lakes, so I'm just gonna skip those. I spent today meandering around the village and generally relaxing. Took a nap for an hour before going downstairs for dinner. Feels like I've earned some rest and relaxation. Very much looking forward to an actual zero in Lukla in just a few quick days.
I finally had dhal bhat tonight, and this is the first time since I left Kathmandu that I've felt full. It's really good, and I imagine I wouldn't think so anymore if I'd been eating it this whole time, though I certainly could've used the calories the last few weeks. I've lost inches on my waist for my struggle, and I'm not mad about it. Silver lining, and all that. But if I did the whole thing again, I'd invest more in proper nutrition and getting sufficient calories for my effort.
There was some sort of local entertainment at the lodge tonight. I was in the dining room and a group of adolescent girls came in dressed up in traditional attire. They started performing dance routine after dance routine while the crowd looked on and clapped in rhythm with the music. When the little girls fanned out to collect dance partners, I was dragged up there. Boy, I was resistent. But how could I say no? It was pretty awkward, but I'm grateful for yet another experience in a special place.
November 8, 2018
Trekking Day: 16 of 22
Start: Thame (Elev: 12,465')
End: Toktok (Elev: 9,055')
Distance: 11 miles
Accommodation: Kongde View Lodge
Feeling a bit anxious this morning thinking about a three mile hike up nearly 5,000 vertical feet to the top of Sunder Peak. That feels like a huge undertaking, especially given my weak state. Decided to at least give it a go, but I could feel the anxiety and reluctance in my body as I set out just after dawn. In the end, I missed the split for the summit trail and felt a hint of relief when I realized it. Rather than turn around to correct my error, I resolved to walk a few hours up the gentle Thame Khola before returning to Thame and packing up to head down to Tok Tok. By leaving in the afternoon, I figured I would get nicer light across the valley, so I took advantage of my mistake and made better of it. Besides I was happy to gain another day of flexibility.
I ate lunch and checked out of my accommodation around 1230. Then I cruised down the valley toward Tok Tok happy with my decision to skip Sunder. I'm just too spent, and I've climbed many high points in the last three weeks. I'm ready to make my way down, down, down. But of course, I'm also an achiever. There was a part of me that felt tempted to stay and zero in Thame, then attempt Sunder again tomorrow. When will I ever be back here? I decided it was too great an undertaking and resolved myself to push the conflict from my mind.
I'd originally planned to trace the west side of the valley avoiding Namche altogether, but one of the locals discouraged me, saying that it is very long and desolate and that the route includes a technical frozen waterfall that needs to be traversed. She said I was far too late to make it all the way through today and that people going that way leave at 0630 to make the trip to Kongde, nevermind Tok Tok. Sounds like a lot of trouble, so I'll go through Namche and try to make Tok Tok tonight. Left pretty late for the 11 mile walk, but it was all donwhill, so I figured I could manage. Worst case I'd stay in Namche.
Instead I made Namche in a smooth two hours, then Monjo in another two. Small ups and downs but no major obstacles. And I'm feeling fantastic now that I'm down at a lower elevation. Got my legs back, finally. I arrived in Tok Tok as the last bit of light faded from the sky. Staying in a lovely, reasonably priced lodge tonight. Stoked that there aren't many other trekkers here, so it's quiet.
On my way down from Namche earlier this evening, I hiked by a man who had passed away of a heart attack. He had already been respectfully wrapped in a sleeping bag, but a crowd had gathered anyways. I could see his wife trying to communicate with the local police, but she didn't speak any English, which made it difficult. She seemed surprisingly calm, but I can't even imagine how I would react if a loved one just died in front of me on a trek like this. Shock. I'd be in shock, I'm sure. But then I think about if that were me. There are far worse fates in life than to die doing what we love. If I die on the mountain, I hope that my loved ones will celebrate the life I've lived. I'd rather live a short, authentic life than a longer, hindered one. This is who I am.
I got WiFi tonight for the first time in two weeks. Been pretty cool not having it, and I was happy to get connected again. I don't think I've ever had the opportunity to go so long without it. The worst part was missing Mallory, though I learned that she didn't struggle with the distance nearly so much as I did. I wonder what I should make of that. I hope nothing.
November 9, 2018
Trekking Day: 17 of 22
Start: Toktok (Elev: 9,055')
End: Lukla (Elev: 9,315')
Distance: 5.5 miles
Accommodation: K2 Lodge
Sunder Peak and Kongde were the only side trips that I intended but didn't complete; I just didn't have the energy or the motivation after two weeks in the high country. And those would've been the most ambitious of my proposed side trips. Part of me laments not doing Sunder. Ah well, I saw some amazing things this trip. Nothing to regret.
I'm in no particular hurry to get down to Lukla today, since I'll be enjoying a full zero there tomorrow. Even without being in a hurry, there wasn't much to distract me en route, so I ended up making the trip in just two hours. It's not as stunning down here below 10,000 feet, but there are advantages. Got my legs back, and I feel fantastic. Excited to score a lodge in the heart of Lukla for the next few nights. Planning to relax and rest up for the difficult walk out through the Himalaya foothills.
I had trouble finding a vantage that I liked for a photo of landing planes at the Tenzing-Hillary Airport, but I managed to get some sweet videos from a few different perspectives of the runway. Stood at the classic spot at the head of the runway, then I walked along it until about the fifty yard line and filmed from there, and finally took some footage from the base of the runway. I did snap a few fisheye shots from the base, and they turned out ok. Nothing to write home about, really. I didn't find the slant of the runway to be as dramatic or intimidating as I'd heard. But isn't that how it usually goes?
Absolutely stoked to get a burger and a beer today. Been dreaming about that combo for a full week. Bliss. And with that, bed.